Sequester Cuts to the NIH Budget Look Increasingly Likely

Guest Blog by Luke Bouvier, PhD

The day of reckoning is fast approaching as concerns the sweeping federal budget cuts known as “sequestration,” scheduled to go into effect on March 1.  Originally slated for January 1, 2013, the cuts were mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was enacted as part of that year’s fight over the increase in the federal debt ceiling.  In the hope that a long-term budget deal would make the automatic cuts unnecessary, their implementation was postponed by the New Year’s Day deal that averted the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but most observers now agree that there is little appetite for a political compromise that could avoid them once again.  On January 24, incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) released a memo outlining the history of the budget deals reached over the past two years as well as the current state of affairs.  The details are messy, but the consequences for the NIH are clear:  a cut of approximately 5.1% to the current year’s budget, or $1.57 billion, which would be all the more severe in that it would have to be squeezed into the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.

In an interview with Politico last month, NIH Director Francis Collins called the impending cuts “a profound and devastating blow” to medical research, adding that “there’s no sort of lever you can pull and all of a sudden everything will be fine” in the face of a cut of that magnitude.  Collins noted that over the past ten years, the NIH budget has been essentially flat, which means that inflation has whittled away about 20% of its value.  The looming cuts would greatly exacerbate that trend, at a time when cancer research is “just exploding with potential,” Collins said.  “We could go faster and faster; … it’s an incredibly exciting science, but it will go slower.”

Nature reported last week that scientists are already cutting back expenditures in anticipation of the cuts.  Senior officials at the science agencies are under White House orders not to discuss specific plans for implementing the cuts, but the Office of Management and Budget has directed them to minimize the impact of the cuts on their core missions and to give priority to concerns over life, safety, or health.  Nature reports that the cuts to the NIH budget would be spread over all of its 27 institutes and centers, with only its Clinical Center spared in order to avoid putting patients’ lives in danger.  Directors would have some discretion in apportioning the cuts, as long as the total adds up to 5.1%.  Given the uncertainty, the NIH has been paying only 90% of the promised amounts for previously awarded grants; if the sequester goes into effect, the final 10% of these grants would almost certainly suffer a significant cut, leaving principal investigators with difficult spending decisions to make.

As if sequestration weren’t enough, looming right behind it is another impending budget crisis, as the current fiscal year’s Continuing Resolution expires on March 27.  If no budget deal is reached by then, a government shut-down is a real possibility.  And following along close behind that deadline is the expiration of the debt ceiling suspension on May 19, which could lead to a US government default on its payment obligations in the absence of congressional action.

Our Client Receives $19 Million NCI Contract Proposal

We would like to congratulate our client on receiving a contract from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to become the Biospecimen Core Resource (BCR) providing biospecimen processing services for The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). The contract, which is for $19 million dollars over two years, was the sole award. Dr. Margaret Bouvier served as lead writer on the contract proposal development team at ITECS Innovative Consulting.

The Cancer Genome Atlas is a signature program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The goal of the project is to catalog genetic mutations responsible for cancer using genome sequencing and bioinformatics. Scientists perform cutting-edge genetic testing of tumors from tens of thousands of patients and dozens of different cancers, thereby improving the ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent the disease. The BCR for TCGA  is central to the process of acquiring both tumor and normal tissue samples and their accompanying clinical information from contributing medical and research centers. BCR functions include analyzing all specimens to ensure they meet rigorous quality standards for each tumor type and ensuring that the clinical information for each sample is available. Once the optimal specimens are examined and processed, the BCR distributes the DNA and RNA extracted from the specimens to researchers throughout the national TCGA research network.

How to Use RePORTER When Preparing New Grant Applications

I love the NIH RePORTER website. One could spend hours on this site, looking at funding trends, levels, priorities, and percentages. If you are considering writing a grant application or contract proposal to NIH, it is well worth spending time on this website to see what NIH is already funding in your topic area.  If you find a similar project, read about it and determine if your proposed project could offer something different. If you find no funding for your topic, it could mean there is a gap in an Institute’s funding portfolio that they might want to fill, or it could mean it is not a funding priority for them at this time. As always, discuss your grantsmanship strategies with your prospective Program Officer(s). NIGMS has a recent post on using RePORTER to search for funded projects in your area:

How to Use RePORTER When Preparing New Grant Applications – NIGMS Feedback Loop Blog – National Institute of General Medical Sciences.